Friday, October 21, 2016

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Imagine not knowing exactly where you're going to sleep tonight and when your next meal will happen. Imagine you are surrounded by strangers who are also not sure what the future holds. Imagine that everything around you is moving fast, with people rushing to do their jobs because if they don’t, someone is going to suffer. Imagine knowing that thousands of people are depending upon you. 

This is what a Red Crosser (volunteers and employees) experiences when deploying for a disaster. They arrive from Tennessee, from New York, from California, even as far as Hawaii and Alaska. They come in on red-eye airplanes with jet lag and jump into their work without a break. They are all trained, but some are on their first deployment while others can recall what Hurricane Katrina was like. Paid or unpaid, Red Cross personnel all work together to get the services needed to those in distress. 

All of them are passionate about the Red Cross mission of alleviating suffering in the face of disaster.  All of them care about making a difference. 

But it's stressful work. No matter how much a person has, the heart can get tired and heavy.  
The Red Cross has people focused specifically on the morale and mental health of staff. At the beginning of every morning briefing at the Charleston, SC headquarters, the main message is to take care of each other. The district disaster relief director, Dan Wirth, closes the meeting with a pledge all staff take: "I promise to be kind and caring to all."  

Keeping a sense of humor is a major component to staff morale. A little silliness goes a long way. Dan's humor is subtle. Volunteers might catch him with Zen, the stuffed sloth, sitting on his head. The humor is contagious, trickling into all parts of the operation, making the long days just a little shorter. 

"We're all family in the end," said Dorothy Penny, an ERV driver from New Hampshire. "Family takes care of family, any way we can." 

Photo: Red Cross volunteers George Kirchner (Alaska), David Penny and Dorothy Penny (New Hampshire) take a moment to be silly for the camera while waiting to get their next volunteer assignments during the Hurricane Matthew disaster response. 

Story/Photo: Michelle Hankes/American Red Cross

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